It is there whether you hear it or not: Syntactic representation of missing arguments

Zhenguang G Cai, Martin J Pickering, Ruiming Wang, Holly P Branigan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Many languages allow arguments to be omitted when they are recoverable from the context, but how do people comprehend sentences with a missing argument? We contrast a syntactically-represented account whereby people postulate a syntactic representation for the missing argument, with a syntactically-non-represented account whereby people do not postulate any syntactic representation for it. We report two structural priming experiments in Mandarin Chinese that showed that comprehension of a dative sentence with a missing direct-object argument primed the production of a full-form dative sentence (relative to an intransitive) and that it behaved similarly to a corresponding full-form dative sentence. The results suggest that people construct the same constituent structure for missing-argument sentences and full-form sentences, in accord with the syntactically-represented account. We discuss the implications for syntactic representations in language processing.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)255-67
Number of pages13
Early online date12 Dec 2014
Publication statusPublished - 31 Mar 2015


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